Monday, February 15, 2016

Change Campaigns Start Local

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (

By Melanie Schuck

I believe it to be a common misconception that change can only be enacted from huge sources such as national non-profit organizations. But, in reality, change must be localized, as Dr. Chuck Stead of Ramapo College, frequently tells his students. His recommendation for those wishing to make change is to start at the most local level possible. Perhaps by going to a town hall meeting in your own town.

A prime example of localized change is the campaign to save the Great Swamp in New Jersey in a rural corner of the New York metropolitan area. Developers wanted to pave it over and build yet another airport there. But, local activists made it a goal to prevent the paving over of the Great Swamp and preserve the natural habitat the way it is, as a wildlife refuge. As described in A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns, they were very much successful in campaigning to keep the Great Swamp the way it is and eventually the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey backed off. The Port Authority was the entity that was planning to pave over the Great Swamp. Thus we see the result of localized change: if a person starts low enough on the totem pole of government, so to speak, then change is possible as this totem pole is climbed. This campaign was a success due to this approach and it essentially started out of the activists’ homes.

Another grassroots campaign similar to the successful efforts to save the Great Swamp is the campaign to save Sterling Forest. The activists in this situation made a similar action plan as the activists involved in saving the Great Swamp: they planned to purchase the land in question, on the border of New Jersey and New York, that was under threat of being developed. They hit a bump in the road, however, when they realized the state of New Jersey could not help them because they had cut spending to conservation funds. This did not stop these dedicated activists. Instead, they just found alternate ways to fund their campaign through various other sources. Their campaign generated a buzz in the news media with their efforts being publicized frequently. This buzz in the media helped them enormously in getting the word out to like-minded people who were not in on the campaign just yet. By getting publicity, grassroots campaigns in general thrive. If they do not have enough publicity it is my opinion that there is a high possibility of the death of said campaign.

As stated earlier, change must be localized in order to work. If a person is to start at the top of the government in an attempt to change it, it is almost guaranteed that they will fail in their endeavors. This is a sound theory because it is next to impossible to make change on a large scale. But, to do it on a local level will result in victory because if local governments change it will have a ‘trickle-up’ effect. Thus, when change is made on a local level, the higher up government must adapt in order to keep up with the governments below it.

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